In real life, William Edward Atchison—people called him Bill—lived in a little yellow house with his parents, about a mile away from the Giant gas station where he worked and from Aztec High School, where he shot and killed two students and then himself last Thursday.
At the murder scene, police found a thumb drive with a note that read, “If things go according to plan, today would be when I die. I go somewhere and gear up, then hold a class hostage and go apeshit, then blow my brains out.”
He wrote “work sucks, school sucks, life sucks. I just want out of this shit.”
“It’s a shame he wasn’t on our radar,” San Juan County Sheriff Ken Christesen told Fox News last week. “I don’t think he had anything so much as a traffic ticket.”
And yet online, the 21-year-old New Mexico resident lived a prolific life as a white supremacist, pro-Trump meme peddler who was most known for his obsession with school shooters. For a half-decade, Atchison spent most of his days online, repeatedly posting threats of violence and cries for help.
When users saw posts from Atchison, who went by dozens of names like “Adam Lanza” and “Future Mass Shooter” on both larger platforms like YouTube and racist communities like The Daily Stormer, they would often ask how his manifesto was going.
Despite local law enforcement’s claims that he wasn’t a known threat, and a visit from the FBI in 2016, Atchison spent most of the last half-decade glorifying school shooters on alt-right websites and posting plaintive appeals for help in fixing his life, according to hundreds of posts analyzed by The Daily Beast.
At EncyclopediaDramatica, a Wikipedia-style site for fringe internet users to describe memes and in-jokes in detail, he volunteered as a SysOp, the site’s word for an administrator. Atchison’s page, now replete with his screen name @satanicdruggie and his real identity, is filed under the “An Heroes” section, reserved for people who have killed themselves.
On the alt-right forums and hate groups he frequented, Atchison appears to have made many enemies. Despite later becoming a moderator of the site, one of Atchison’s most popular EncyclopediaDramatica accounts, AlGore, was banned from the site for two years when it was labeled as a “troll.”
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And in the run-up to the 2016 election, EncyclopediaDramatica users excoriated Atchison for abusing his powers as a SysOp of the site. Users were upset he was appending too many pro-Columbine shooting memes and “shitty facebook commentaries” praising Donald Trump on the site’s home page.
In the thread, as it often did with discussions about Atchison’s last account @satanicdruggie, the conversation invariably turned back to his obsession with school shootings.
“Do you fantasize about shooting up the bullies at your school?” one user asked.
“Yah i remember him literally bragging about being *obsessed* with Columbine,” a user responded. “In 2016.”
“Have you completed your manifesto yet?” another asked.
Atchison even spread his affinity for school shootings and Nazi ideology in more sanitized parts of the web.
On Steam, an online video game store and community, Atchison used the reviews section to criticize Wolfenstein games, which are set in World War II-era Germany.
“I find this game highly offensive for featuring mass murder against your own race,” he wrote. In another review, he simply wrote, “RIP Hitler.”
In a review of Doom II, Atchison referred to the Columbine shooting as “LOLumbine.” His review for the game Hatred, a game which was initially pulled from Steam because the main character’s goal is to “slaughter innocents,” simply reads “ur going to ALL pay.”
And his recent posts reflected what seems to be a migration from trolling to honest espousal of an extreme right-wing political ideology.
In November, Atchison wrote on Steam, “How am I supposed to function in this world? Wherever I go, I see degeneracy. Pointless materialism, hedonism, sexual decay, dirty n**gers who do nothing but slowly break down this society etc. it’s fucking everywhere. No way to escape it, 99% of people are part of it and whatever I do I am confronted with the death of the West. Go to the store and buy groceries in peace? Nope, here’s a group of LGBT liberal filth in line with you. And there’s a n**ger family with 10 kids over there. And a Finn too, but he’s overweight as fuck and he’s buying alcohol and shit junk food. Fucking fantastic.
“I used to think that this was a phase and we’d get over it, but I have now come to realize that I was born into a literal dystopia.”
On Kiwi Farms, a forum that describes itself as a place for “gossip and exploitation of the mentally handicapped for amusement purposes,” Atchison frequently posted commemorations of mass shooters. Two days before his own school shooting, under his username “Fuck You,” Atchison posted an explicit sexual reply endorsing Lindsay Kantha Souvannarath, a failed mass shooter from Halifax, Nova Scotia. (Atchison used a photo of Kiwi Farms administrator Josh Moon as his profile picture for Steam.)
On YouTube, Atchison admitted he posted anonymously on pro-Trump, white-supremacist sites like 4chan’s /pol/ board or The Daily Stormer, but gave up when domain registrars kept shutting down The Daily Stormer’s domain names. He, along with most of The Daily Stormer’s community, said the sites were “shoa’d,” an anti-Semitic slur.
“[I’m] on different youtube channels, anonymous posts on the chans, or my work on ED,” he said. “Formerly DS before it got shoa’d and I’m too lazy to get TOR again.”
Atchison had also posted on Blockland.us, a forum for the Minecraft-like multiplayer video game, since 2014. His more than 40 usernames were meant to offend. Almost all were racist or violent by design. Several were modeled after school shooters, including Cho Seung-Hui, Omar Mateen, Adam Lanza, Elliot Rodger, and Anders Breivik. He also went by “School Shooter” and “Future Mass Shooter.”
Ryan Lenz, who monitors hate groups and extremism for the Southern Poverty Law Center, said Atchison’s pattern is typical of white extremists—even if his years-long archive of school-shooting proclamations might be unprecedented.
“Generally, mass shooters spend a period of time prior to their action steeped in studying previous shooters. They study the aftermath of these individuals. They have a great deal of esteem or respect for others who have done the same,” said Lenz.
“Add in the ideology, in this case these forums—it compounds the severity and the rate of radicalization.”
Lenz said the cocktail of violent rhetoric, mental illness, and economic despair is what leads to “mobilization,” the word experts use for the shift from radicalized online rhetoric to real-life behavior.
“What we’ve found with these ideologies is that they repeatedly lead to violence. There’s a dual line of radicalization happening,” said Lenz. “To steep yourself in Daily Stormer rhetoric and the sites like it is to put yourself in the headspace of where the violence is when not if.”
In his final days, Atchison used “Sam Hyde” as his display name, the name alt-right users on websites like 4chan and Twitter employ in an effort to dupe the media into sharing false information after mass shootings.
“The internet has changed a lot of things. Make it much easier for an alienated, isolated kid to find communities where they feel they belong,” said Lenz. “And it sometimes goes unchecked because of how the alt-right has presented itself: It’s just irony. It’s for the lulz.”
On EncyclopediaDramatica, Atchison also appears on the entry for Bob8466, or Carter Boyles of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, a 15-year-old who shot and killed himself at his high school on Sept. 11, 2016. Atchison, who called himself a friend of Boyles on YouTube and the video game site Steam, wrote the Bob8466 EncyclopediaDramatica entry after the Iowa teen’s suicide.
“It is believed that [Boyles] was calmly talked down from going postal, instead unfortunately choosing to take his own life and becoming an [sic] hero to us all,” Atchison wrote under the username AlGore.
Like Atchison, Boyles was active on Steam and on YouTube, where he posted videos of simulated school shootings. In Boyle’s final video, a first-person walkthrough of the school where he shot himself, online acquaintances gathered to post comments in memoriam.
“Suicides are ignored,” Atchinson wrote, under the name Vance Stone. “Suicidal people who commit mass murder, however, get the entire world’s attention, garner thousands of fans / fangirls, become a household name and become celebrities.
“His action of suicide was tragic and it’s a shame he had to go out like that, because he was pretty damn cool when I chatted to him.”
Boyle wasn’t Atchison’s only school-shooter friend, according to “Smith,” a YouTuber from Texas who considered Atchison a friend. Smith’s channel, “Aesthetic Autism,” features mostly footage of war synced to music, and he recorded but has not released a podcast with the New Mexico murderer.
Smith told The Daily Beast that Ali Sonboly, the teenager who shot and killed nine people in a Munich McDonald’s last year, was also a member of the Steam group that he and Atchison started, called the Anti-Refugee Club. (Smith claims the group—which was taken down two months ago—wasn’t racist but “mostly satire.”)
“[Atchison] wasn’t alt-right. He wasn’t a neo-Nazi,” Smith said in a direct message. “Bill hated both sides… His emotions mixed with his politics.
“He was edgy, he was offensive, and he was shocking. He said a lot out of pure shock, but I didn’t think he’d be so moronic enough to do what he did,” Smith said.
That shocking content brought the FBI to Atchison’s door in 2016.
Acting on a tip that Atchison had posted a comment on a gaming forum asking users where he could get “a cheap assault rifle” for a mass shooting, the FBI interviewed him and his family, and ultimately determined that no crime had been committed and closed the investigation.
“He was cooperative,” Albuquerque FBI Special Agent Terry Wade said at a press conference last week. “He told us that he enjoyed trolling on the internet.
“The agents specifically asked him if he had plans about conducting attacks and expressed the seriousness that we take these type of things. He assured us that he had no such plans,” Wade said.
Atchison described the visit on his YouTube channel, writing in a comment, “I was part of the trolling and lulz… the feds investigated me cus some fag reported my profile to troll me… they said they didn’t think I was a serious threat and understood the satire…”
The Daily Beast reached out to Agent Wade about Atchison’s online behavior. Wade’s spokesperson referred a reporter to the San Juan County sheriff and said the FBI wouldn’t have further comment on the case at this time.
Brice Current, a captain at San Juan County Sheriff’s Office, said they were just beginning to process the crime scene and Atchison’s home, at which they confiscated his computer and Xbox 360. As for a motive, Current could only speculate.
“We don’t have a motive other than it was planned,” Current said. “He obviously did something in his life where he came up with this plan and idea and went through with it. Online gaming, or the people he associated with, or what. This was his plan and I don’t know, I don’t know. I really don’t think he had a motive other than to be famous in that world, whatever world that is.”
Despite building up a reputation for trolling on forums like EncyclopediaDramatica, Atchison took to other platforms like LiveJournal in a sincere search for someone who would hear his cries for help.
On the website Think Atheist, Atchison titled his sole post “Stuck in a Rural Redneck Town” in September 2014. “I don’t want to be lame or anything but I should probably come out about all this,” he wrote.
Under the name Demetrius Alcala, Atchison outlines his floundering career and social life in rural New Mexico. He applied to fast-food restaurants and dollar stores and was rejected. He hadn’t had friends since childhood, when two people took advantage of him after he loaned them video-game consoles that were sold or weren’t given back.
He had a 3.5 GPA, he said, but dropped out in 10th grade because of anxiety and the “backwards as hell” culture at school. He says he tried to go back but dropped out again, citing his abusive family.
He called his father a “fat lazy idiot who watches fox news all day” and his mother “a psycho hillbilly drunk from florida who’s really mentally ill.”
Two years before the FBI visited his home, and three years before he killed two people in a New Mexico high school, Atchison pleaded for advice on how to fix his life.
“Look, I’m sorry if I’m rude and hateful or anything, but I don’t know what to do. I’ve lived no life for nearly 19 years, most of which was in the miserable ass sun-belt. Did you know new mexico has the fourth highest suicide rate?” Atchison wrote.
“Should I escape this dump or deal with it? How can I become polite and make some friends out there in this world?”